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The Third Intifada Has Begun: United Nonviolent Resistance

4 March 2013 One Comment

(left to right) Rami Elhanan, Patricia Smith Melton, and Bassam Aramin in Washington, D.C.

Patricia Smith Melton
Peace X Peace Founder

“Our responsibility in the West is to inform ourselves and answer to our conscience in the thoughtful ways that work for us.”

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Rami Elhanan says meetings between peace-loving Israelis and Palestinians will achieve little if they’re only about getting together for “hugs, kisses, and hummus.” What is needed is the commitment to action. Rami, an Israeli, and Bassam Aramin, Palestinian, are calling for a united nonviolent third intifada of Palestinians and Israelis.

Interviewed together by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now television February 26, Bassam said, “For many months the situation in Palestine has been very bad. The behavior of the Israeli occupation has become more aggressive. The Palestinian people cannot continue living under this brutal occupation without any hope. We call for a Palestinian-Israeli intifada against our common enemy, the Israeli occupation. We must join forces in a nonviolent intifada.”

Rami told me Palestine is ready to explode from the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements, the thousands of Palestinians held―often for years without a charge―in Israeli prisons, the confinement inside an eight-meter high concrete wall, financial deprivation, and increasing racism and acts of violence against Palestinians by factions of the Israeli society.

GAZA, PALESTINE, On February 23, 2013 Thousands protested the death of Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian detainee in Israel's Megiddo prison. Photo Credit: Joe Catron

Some say the third intifada has already begun, rising out of years of nonviolent protests against the encroachment of the wall, destruction of olive groves, severance from water sources, withholding of finances for infrastructure, and other deprivations in the West Bank and Gaza, and of evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, where they are replaced by extremist settlers. While these demonstrations achieved little, there have been small encouraging victories, and Palestinians have learned the impact of nonviolence as global awareness of their efforts and cause grows.

In the past two weeks the predominantly nonviolent protests have increased to hundreds and thousands of Palestinians confronting the Israeli military daily, catalyzed by the death on February 23 of Arafat Jaradat after interrogation by Israeli guards at Majiddo prison. The coroner’s report on Jaradat revealed extreme physical trauma.

Palestinian women attacked in Israel, February 2013.

The hunger strike of Samar Issawi, stretching from July 29, 2012 to this moment, is another catalyst. Issawi, near death, began his strike after being rearrested following the prisoner exchange of October 11, 2011, when 1027 Palestinian prisoners were released for the return of the captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Issawi had served 6 years of a 26-year sentence. He is now being held with no formal charges against him. This state of “detention” is legal under Israeli law and can go on indefinitely.

Videos of violence against protesting Palestinians and their Israeli and international supporters are flooding out of Israel and Palestine via social media. The actions may, unfortunately, only break into the mainstream media if violence erupts massively―when what is needed is for nonviolent actions to enter into the consciences of people everywhere to reveal the need for restorative justice now.

United in purpose: Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan

(left to right) Rami Elhanan, Bassam Aramin, and Shelley Hermon, director of the new documentary Within the Eye of the Storm.

Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin have credentials, and they know violence kills the innocent.

Rami, the son of a Holocaust survivor, fought in three wars in the Israeli Defense Force. Bassam, a former Palestinian freedom fighter or “terrorist,” depending on your viewpoint, was held in Israeli prison for seven years. Both were willing to kill and be killed for their people.

Then grief struck. Rami’s 14-year-old daughter Smadar was killed in September 1997 in Jerusalem by a suicide bomber. Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter Abir was killed in January 2007 near her school in Anata, outside Jerusalem in the West Bank. She was shot by an Israeli soldier at the base of her skull with a rubber-coated steel bullet.

The two men already knew each other as founding members of Combatants for Peace, former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters who vowed never to use violence against each other again. With Abir’s death, Bassam joined Rami as a bereaved father. They are the deepest of friends and their common purpose is to save the children, and their societies, from cycles of violence and retribution.

Bassam and Rami are featured in the new documentary “Within the Eye of the Storm,” directed by Shelley Hermon. They were in the U.S. from February 21 – 26 as the film was sponsored by Peace X Peace in screenings throughout the Washington, DC area, including a mosque, church, university, and the National Press Club.

“Intifada”: a concise history and Westerner’s guide

2001 Palestinian street protest in A-Ram, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Photo Credit: Mati Milstein

The word intifada frightens us Westerners. We associate it de facto with violence, the violence of Palestinians against Israelis, unaware―and generally uninformed by our media―that thousands more Palestinians have been killed during intifadas than Israelis.

Intifada means “uprising” in Arabic, but comes specifically from the Arabic word manfada, meaning “ashtray.” Think of the moment when the ash is shaken off the end of a cigarette and the burning goes from passiveness to awakening.

The first intifada began in 1987. On the Palestinian side it was mostly nonviolent, the intifada of the “stoners,” those who threw stones. It was brutally oppressed by Israeli authorities; Yitzhak Rabin, then Minister of Defense, told Israeli soldiers “to use force, might, and beatings.” Thousands of Palestinians were put in jail, marking the beginning of the practice of massive arrests.

The first intifada ended with the Oslo Accords, seemingly sealed on September 13, 1993, by then-Prime Minister Rabin and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat’s handshake on the lawn of the White House.

The Accords showed peace was possible. “Immediately after the signing,” Rami says, “was like a dream. Israeli soldiers were receiving flowers and candies from the Palestinians.”

“It was,” he said, “the greatest promise and the greatest disappointment. It showed the ability of the two sides to touch the wounds and talk about them, but it revealed an inability, or unwillingness, to solve the problems.”

The specifics in the Accords had been drawn up by politicians who had expectations from each other that could not be fulfilled. Each side ignored the depth of the historical pain and narrative of the other. The complexity of each other’s relationship to their “homeland” was not understood, acknowledged, or accounted for.

Five months later, during the Jewish holiday of Purim on February 25, 1994, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, a right-wing Israeli settler, massacred 29 Palestinians and wounded 125 more at prayers in Hebron. After the 40 days of Muslim mourning, violence started.

Israel immediately closed the West Bank and Gaza and shut out the masses of Palestinians who worked in low-capacity jobs in Israel. The economic situation in the occupied territories dramatically deteriorated even as the number of settlements increased. Both sides felt the other was cheating. The Oslo Accords had failed. Disillusion, depression, and sporadic violence set in.

Tear gas canisters used against protesters.

In July of 2000 Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yassar Arafat met with President Clinton at Camp David to make peace in two weeks, a goal doomed to fail without the trust and will needed by leaders on both sides to take personal political risks. The failure of the summit created even more distrust and tension.

On September 29, 2000, Arial Sharon, leader of the far right Likud party in opposition to Barak, went with hundreds of Israeli riot police into Old City Jerusalem. There he entered the Temple Mount, the third most holy site in the world for Muslims. This act, experienced as a provocation calculated to insult, was met with violent protests by Palestinians immediately and in the days following.

The second intifada, the violent intifada, had begun. The Israeli army reacted viciously. According to Rami, “The government lost control of the army and shot everything that moved. Our common knowledge is that if the army had contained its violence, the second intifada would not have gone so deep and so far.”

The deaths during the second intifada are estimated at more than 3000 Palestinians and approximately 1000 Israelis, mostly by suicide bombers. Israeli civilians were killed in the streets, in buses, in restaurants, in stores and other public buildings. Rami said, “The atmosphere was like a reenactment of previous persecution: you cannot go out of your house safely, sit anywhere safely. Yet, as much as the fear was there, the anger was stronger.”

The second intifada died slowly, and mainly because it was contained internally by the Palestinian Authority. The price Palestinians paid was huge. Every family was touched by deaths and imprisonment. Villages were shut off from each other by a network of Israeli checkpoints across the West Bank. Palestinians lost their freedom completely. Some internal checkpoints have been removed but as of December 2012, 57 checkpoints still remained between villages in the West Bank, with 40 checkpoints along the Wall dividing the West Bank and Israel.

This is why Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin, tested warriors, are calling for a nonviolent intifada to head off the possibility of escalating violence before it is too late, to end the occupation, to save the innocents.

What a nonviolent intifada looks like

The Bab al-Shams ("Gateway to the Sun") "village" was constructed as a protest in response to the announcement that an illegal Israeli settlement bloc in the West Bank was to be extended. Palestinians celebrated their act of peaceful resistance with Dabke music and dancing. Photo Credit: Lazar Simeonov/Al Jazeera

There is a new young generation in Palestine, people who grew up under the occupation and who didn’t suffer as much from the oppression of the second intifada, and they are willing to sacrifice themselves. They have witnessed Arab Spring, and they are connected to all social media and use it powerfully―and they understand the power of nonviolence.

There are hundreds of activities on the ground. Every day there are demonstrations for the prisoners. Every Friday there are demonstrations across the West Bank―in Bil’in, Nabi Saleh, Kufr Qaddum, Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and more. These are joint struggles of Israelis who are not afraid to demonstrate and face the soldiers and of Palestinians who are not afraid to face prison and rubber bullets and tear gas.

There are the activities of Combatants for Peace, and of Breaking the Silence, made up of Israeli soldiers speaking out about military abuse. The Parent’s Circle – Family Forum of bereaved parentshas continual activities in schools.

Activists rebuild houses that were torn down, make theaters for the kids, and teach children to make videos of their lives and to record violence against them. West Bank Palestinians go in the night to set up vans and tents on unoccupied areas of their own land in order to keep it safely their own, claiming it by using the same methods the settlers do to start new (illegal) settlements. Israeli soldiers come the next day and break them up, but the Palestinians return.

Israeli soldiers take Palestinian youth in blindfolds.

And many documentaries are being made by Palestinians and Israelis―not only “Within the Eye of the Storm,” but award-winning “Budrus” about the nonviolent protests in a village split by the wall, and “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers,” both nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary of 2012.

That is what a nonviolent Palestinian-Israeli third intifada looks like. This doesn’t mean it won’t be met with violence. It already is, but nonviolent protests have the power, if held, to end the cycles of violence―if the world pays attention, is touched, and responds with pressure for peace and justice.

Our responsibility in the West is to inform ourselves and answer to our conscience in the thoughtful ways that work for us. Bassam is adamant that in supporting only one side, the U.S. helps no one. He told me we must be “Pro Israel. Pro Palestine. Pro Peace.” He added, “The man who shot my daughter is also a victim, a victim of what he was taught and of circumstances. This must end.”

Rami added, “We cannot put our faith in the hands of incompetent politicians. Politicians, against the law of nature, get smaller as you get closer to them. My hope, my prayer, is that Israelis and Palestinians, that those of the political left and the political right, will join forces and make a stand against injustice.”

Those are our nonviolent marching orders. It is the beat of a different drummer.

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One Comments to “The Third Intifada Has Begun: United Nonviolent Resistance”
  1. Daniel S. Moskowitz says:

    After awhile, This conflict just becomes INSTITUIONALIZED, but it also reaches the Point where Communication is so Poor between Opposing Factions that they don’t really KNOW if the Other Side is “The Enemy” because they don’t know what they think about ANYTHING. Actually I just gave a Palestinian young Man a copy of the CD “Tel-Aviv Sessions” by Idan Raichel and Vieux Farka Toure yesterday. He was quite Appreciative. My experience is that many Palestinians, especially those Living Abroad don’t really want to be BITTER. The Bitterness just makes them Sick and Vulnerable to Substance Abuse. So, the Continuation of this Conflict can only Result in Losers. There can only be a Win-Win Situation with Peace. Hey, if my young Friend appreciates West African Music, I’ll keep him Supplied. Just like King Saul in the Bible, all us Disturbed Men need our “Lute Player” like David.

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